Armenian Genocide Survivors Remember
Thousands of Armenians, Jews and other supporters will gather in Times Square on April 22, to commemorate the first genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian Genocide as well as Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The event will pay tribute to the almost two million Armenians who were massacred by the Young Turk Government of the Ottoman Empire and to the six million Jews who were annihilated by the Nazi regime during World War II.
In anticipation of the 97th anniversary of the tragedy which occurred during World War I, four survivors of the Armenian Genocide, known as Medz Yeghern, remembered their horrific moments of sorrow, pain and survival during a special question and answer session at the New York Armenian Home in Flushing.
Held on March 25, four women, all a century or older and representing some of the few remaining survivors of the genocide, told their stories.
“Each year there are fewer survivors to talk to,” said Dr. Dennis R. Papazian, founding director of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. “The fact that they still remember, at their age, the events that happened to them are an indication of how traumatic the whole experience was.”
The first was Perouz Kalousdinian, born in Harput (Kharpert), Turkey in 1909. She was six years old when she witnessed The Turks take all the males in her family, more than 15 of them, including her uncles from their homes, tie them up two by two and throw them over the side of a bridge into the River Euphrates. When she asked her mother what they were doing with all the men, she started crying and told her that they're not coming back. Later on Kalousdinian and her mother were taken as slaves by the wife of one of the Turkish leaders called Ibrahim “Bey” to work as maids in their home. About five years later they fled to Aleppo, Syria, where they remained for about three years before leaving for America, where her father who fled from the genocide was waiting for them.
“I hope that one day all the Armenians will gather and take revenge on the Turks,” Kalousdinian said in her native tongue. “They’re Liars, they were liars, they are liars and they will always be liars. God was not with us in those days, but there will come a day when justice will be served by God and all the Turks will regret what they did to the Armenians.”
Next came Arsalos Dadir, born August 15, 1913 in Shabin Karahisar, Turkey. Dadir shared that her father was killed by the Young Turks when he was only 25 leaving behind herself and her mother who was only 20 when he was killed. Her uncle, a doctor, was one of 300 martyrs killed on April 14, 1915 when Armenian leaders, including members of the Turkish Parliament, were murdered. She remembered how the Young Turks took 10 people from the village, tired them up, and shot them all. She remembers hundreds of bodies piled on top of each other.
Coming from a wealthy family, her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother found safety with a wealthy Turkish family. Her family lost all of their money and land and the family eventually moved to Constantinople, where Dadir married and raised two children, before moving to the U.S. later in life.
The third was Charlotte Kechejian, born in Nikhda, Turkey on October 21, 1912.
Kechejian told how she walked with her mother for miles through the desert to escape persecution by the ruling Turks. She recounted feeling tired, thirsty and hungry and sleeping in the desert. Her mother kept promising her that if she would hold on a little while longer, she would have comfort and happiness and plenty of food to eat. This, of course, was not so.
“It was awful,” she said. “It’s something I hope you never see.”
Finally, came Azniv Guiragossian, a new resident at the home. Guiragossian was born on December 30, 1910 in Urfa, Turkey. Her whole family was killed when she was only six years old and, like most children who survived the genocide, she was sent to live in an orphanage.
The event was hosted by New York Armenian Home Executive Director Aghavni Ellian, Papazian, Case Manager and translator Karine Barsoumian and Linda Millman Guller of Marketing and Communications LLC.
The first stage of the Genocide occurred from 1894 until 1896, when more than 300,000 Armenians were massacred during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. In 1909, approximately 30,000 Armenians were massacred in the area of Cilicia. The final stage of the genocide commenced on April 24, 1915, when more than 200 Armenian religious, political and intellectual leaders were arrested in Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, and murdered along with 5,000 of the poorest Armenians, who were actually butchered in the streets.
The Armenian Genocide was devised and implemented by the Central Committee of the Young Turk Party, formally known as the Committee for Union and Progress, which was dominated by Mehmed Talat Pasha, Ismail Enver Pasha and Ahmed Djemal Pasha of the Ottoman Empire. In the end, almost two million Armenians would be brutally killed and more than 500,000 exiled from the Ottoman Empire. The extermination was systematic, with many steps involved to ensure the annihilation of the Armenian race. One act involved the removal of Armenian troops, leaving civilians with no defense. Within several months, approximately 250,000 Armenians serving in the Ottoman army during World War I were disarmed and placed in forced labor battalions, where they were either starved or executed.
The Armenian people were deprived of their leadership and young men. With all opposition removed, they were then deported from every city, town and village of Anatolia and Western Armenia. In most instances, during the death marches the men and older boys were quickly separated and executed soon after the exile began. The unprotected women and children were marched for weeks into the Syrian desert and subjected to rape, torture and mutilation. Thousands were seized and forced into Turkish and Kurdish harems. Victims on the death marches were denied food and water, and many were brutalized and killed. Authorities in Trebizond on the Black Sea coast drowned Armenians in the sea while Armenians in Eastern Turkey were placed in cattle cars and transported to concentration camps in the desert. The majority of the deportees died on the marches or from starvation, disease and murder. By the end of 1923, the entire Armenian population of Anatolia and Western Armenia had been killed, deported or become refugees in other countries.
The genocide served as a lesson for other tyrannical regimes. Adolph Hitler, when asked by his general staff on the eve of the invasion of Poland what the world would think and how they would be judged by history, replied, “It doesn’t matter. After all, who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?”
Only one Turkish government, under Damad Ferit Pasha, has ever recognized the Armenian Genocide. His administration held war crime trials and condemned most of the instigators to the massacre. Every other Turkish government has continued to deny the genocide.
“As the years go by, it still never gets better, there is no justice,” Dadir said.